Shawni Eyre Pothier is the mother of five children between the ages of twelve and three. She received a bachelors’ degree from Brigham Young University and is an accomplished writer, speaker and presenter. Shawni is also in demand as an artist and photographer specializing in images of children and families. She and her mother, Linda Eyre, are the co-authors of A Mother’s Book of Secrets: Keys to Making Motherhood Memorable, Meaningful, and Magnificent you can also follow along with Shawni on her blog, 71Toes.

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The Myth of the “Perfect Mother”

Years ago my Newsweek magazine sucked me in the instant it surfaced through email with it’s image of a mother holding a baby and smiling at me from the cover. She was super-imposed with six extra arms, each one doing some sort of motherhood task. The words “The Myth of the Perfect Mother” stretched out above this mother, who seemed to be just that: quite perfect…as long as she could keep those six extra arms.

(Yes I’m totally nerdy and I still have the magazine.)

The articles enclosed discussed the intricacies of motherhood. The desire our generation has to “do it all.” They talked about how some mothers feel that part of them died when they became a mother…mostly their sense of “self.” They gave statistics, like how thirty percent of American mothers suffer from depression and how nine hundred and nine women in Texas told researchers that they “find taking care of their kids about as much fun as cleaning their house, slightly less pleasurable than cooking, and a whole lot less enjoyable than watching television.”

I believe that we live in a generation that tries to fit so much into each day that sometimes we lose track of the really important stuff. I mean, maybe if some of those women back in Texas weren’t trying to conquer the world at the same time as raising their children perhaps they wouldn’t find child rearing so un-enjoyable after all.

Although we are not handed over an instruction manual in the hospital alongside that precious newborn bundle, we are bombarded with all kinds of instructions as we try to raise that sweet child in our care:

“Read with your kids!”

“Feed them perfect, balanced meals!”

“Volunteer in their classrooms!”

“Take them to tim-buc-tu three times a week for soccer practice if you want them to excel in life.”

“Serve unquestioningly in the church!”

And even though we may put forth our best efforts, we sometimes end up slipping backwards down the slippery slope of good intentions. Sure, the desire is there to “be there” for our children. But along with “being there” we women seem to think we must do everything else and “save the world” at the same time. And we find that in stretching ourselves so thin there is a problem:

We don’t have those six extra arms that were superimposed on that smiling mother on the cover of my Newsweek magazine. We only have two. And even worse, we only have one heart that can get broken and worried and overwhelmed over and over and over again.

The other problem we run into is that we are women by nature. And let’s face it, women worry too much. We have guilt. And we tend to measure ourselves by comparing. We think we have to do it all. And we don’t generally have the ability to say, “I’m sorry but I can’t do that right now,” because we see so-and-so who has even more kids than we do pulling it off without thinking twice. So we say “yes” with a smile on our faces while inside our hearts are screaming “no!”

Now, let me pause here to clarify that in saying “we” I’m really meaning “me” because Heaven forbid that I judge incorrectly that all women deal with my same issues. I just have a hunch that many of us are in the same boat. We try to do too much. If you are not in this “boat,” please send advice ASAP.

I love the analogy of life being like a pickle jar. If you fill it up with big rocks first, you can fit in smaller rocks and sand without much problem. But if you try to fit those big rocks in after the sand and gravel you’ll find they just won’t fit. The big rocks have to go first.

In life we can choose what those big rocks are. If we let them be the fluff then the important stuff will never fit. But if the big rocks we choose to always put first are our families and our faith, other things will fit in as we allow them.

As for me, I’ve been frustrated lately because my “big rocks” tend to be more of the fluff. And when that happens I get so busy that I squeeze out all the “moments” that I want to be cherishing…yes, those moments that make motherhood so rich and rewarding.

Starting today my goal is to draw some better boundaries around what I say yes to, and to make better choices of what is “good, better and best.”

Because although I don’t believe in the reality of a “perfect mother,” I do believe in the power of a “deliberate mother.” One who knows how to prioritize what’s most important…and that she simply can’t and shouldn’t “do it all.” And one who relies on help from up above. Because she knows that those children she calls her own are really God’s children. And she can rest easily knowing that they, along with that husband of hers are the rocks that fill up that pickle jar of life first.

I know, much easier said than done, but man alive I feel like the luckiest girl ever that I get to be with these guys every day:

And I don’t want to ever take that for granted.

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Comments (7)

  1. Anonymous 11/10/2010 at 2:10 am

    Great article. I know I’ll never be a perfect mom, but I can do my best. For me the most important part is enjoying my children. It’s easier to see what’s important as I get older.

  2. Mkwgreene 11/09/2010 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you. I really needed this reminder this morning.

  3. Emlyn 11/09/2010 at 6:07 am

    Thanks so much.

  4. Joyelle Brandt 11/09/2010 at 5:07 am

    I love this article! I cannot stand to hear about another woman who can “do it all”. I love hearing honest stories about how we need to choose our priorities, because we are all only human beings with two arms and 24 hours a day.

  5. tanya 11/08/2010 at 11:48 pm

    Wow. and thanks.

  6. Kristy 11/08/2010 at 7:49 pm

    Oh my gosh that was good it made me cry. I have got to refocus. After doing Dave Ramsey’s program we have learned to treat our money like God’s but why not our children? Thank you for snapping me out of it and recentering back to what is important.

    • Judy Chauncey 11/09/2010 at 4:14 am

      Nicely written. The kids are beautiful.